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Business and Human Rights in Asia: From the First Decade to the Next

11:30-13:00 (Bangkok time, GMT+7), 1 June 2021

Organised by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)

Background

The ten-year anniversary of the UN Human Rights Council’s endorsement of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) is much more than a ceremonious moment for stakeholders in Asia. It is an opportunity to reflect and recalibrate. Important victories were won in the first decade of the UNGPs. Yet, given the immensity of gaps and hurdles that stakeholders in Asia face and foresee, there is a fervour to reinvent Asia’s business and human rights (BHR) movement for the next decade. There are calls to rally around the region’s vast and rich network of grassroots organizations and human rights defenders. Pairing transformations from the top-down and change from below will be the only way to reckon with the challenges that lay ahead in the next decade of BHR in Asia.

To guide global efforts on progressing BHR, the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights launched the Next Decade Project. This effort aims to take stock of developments relating to business and human rights (BHR) to date and develop a roadmap for progressing BHR discourse in Asia in the next decade. To inform this effort, the United Nations Development Programme commissioned a research study to evaluate the progress on BHR in Asia during the first decade of the UNGPs and look at what challenges lie ahead in the next decade. The research included interviews with over 100 informants representing different stakeholder groups linked to Asia, emphasizing civil society actors. 

Session Description

During this session, UNDP will present its report Business and Human Rights in Asia: From the First Decade to the Next. Panellists will discuss how, especially civil society feels that Asia’s BHR movement is struggling to reach affected rights holders, much less achieve tangible outcomes for them. While much has been done to gain buy-in from government and corporate leaders, it appears that the task is to proliferate the movement and bring rights holders to the fore, which will require recalibration. There are widely different challenges, opportunities, nuances and connections across various thematic issues. Collectively, they convey dire circumstances and an apparent disconnection between the BHR movement and other established human rights movements in Asia. At the same time, there are specific cases of successful advocacy and reform that provide cause for hope. Needless to say, transformations are underway in Asia and beyond, which will influence and be influenced by the BHR movement.

Nevertheless, it seems that the BHR field itself is in a state of flux. While the drive to foster BHR leadership through a race to the top made sense and gained momentum, a decade on, it has produced a field that various informants characterized as top-down, technocratic, fragmented, and not focussed on the rights holders it is meant to serve. This all points to several opportunities to reshape the next decade of the UNGPs. 

Session Objectives

The key objectives of this session are to: 

  • Identify the extent to which the first decade of the UNGPs has brought about tangible results for affected rights holders in Asia;

  • Illustrate current realities across a range of themes and stakeholders, significantly affected rights holders;

  • Analyze the transformations that are underway in Asia and beyond, with a focus on National Action Plans on Business and Human Rights;

  • Identify opportunities to promote BHR discourse during the next decade of the UNGPs.

Contact
For questions, please contact unrbhrforum@undp.org